Archive for February, 2007

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More on African Americans and Video Games

February 20, 2007

Black Voice News Online ran a two-part article a few weeks ago by Richard Jones called “The Bad News and Good News of Obsessive Video Games”. It touches on a few themes that came up in the earlier discussion about the disparity between Black game players and Black game developers, as well as an interesting bit on the influence of negative media images upon people of color. You can read the rest here (part 1) and here (part 2).

This bit, in particular, caught my interest:

The video game industry is all about money. No one really cares about your skin color or gender if you are a well-trained video game designer or illustrator. The problem is that our youth and adult players see themselves as players and not designers or illustrators. Therefore unless they’re motivated to get on the business end versus the player end of the video game phenomenon they will continue to be portrayed in a negative light and also miss out on a ten billion dollar a year industry.

While I certainly agree with Jones’s sentiment that more people of color should get involved in developing computer games, I have a hard time with saying that “the video game industry is just about money” any more or less than any other industry is, ultimately, “just about money”. As with any other media-production industry, the question isn’t just about how much money is being made, but also about who is making the money. And in this particular case, I would submit that there’s plenty of money that certain people can make by selling negative media images to young Black men.

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Microsoft Asks Asian Gamers: “What’s Wrong With You?”

February 6, 2007

Apparently the Xbox 360 isn’t doing so well in Asia. Who knew? But if WhatsWrongWithU is the best they can do to try and win over the Asian markets, I doubt they’ll be going to be winning any new Xbox 360 buyers anytime soon. Never mind the ridiculousness of asking Singaporean or HK gamers if the reason they don’t own an XBox 360 is “the lack of AMAZING Japanese games?!?!?!”…

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Blackness and Video Games

February 1, 2007

Thanks to Carmen from Racialicious for the heads-up.

So one of the latest stories to trickle through the video game news grapevine is about a student-run magazine at the Art Institute of California at San Francisco. Word has it an African American student named Simone Mitchell published an essay named “Homicide” in the student magazine, “Mute/Off”, about constructions of blackness in video games. From the Los Angeles Times:

Simone Mitchell enrolled in the Art Institute of California at San Francisco hoping to catch attention with his visual art, but it was his writing, contained in an essay about racial stereotypes in video games, that catapulted a small in-class short story to the front lines of debate on the timeless “what is art?” question.

Mitchell wrote the 10-page spread for Mute/Off, a small magazine produced as part of a cultural studies class. The school pulled the magazine from circulation Dec. 6, hours after it was distributed, saying it hadn’t been approved by the administration.

Soon after the cultural studies teacher, Robert Ovetz, protested the administration’s actions, he was told not to come back for the next semester. Students and Ovetz say it was the latest in a pattern of recent censorship tactics, an allegation the school declines to discuss.

Mitchell’s essay, titled “Homicide,” centers on three African American males who address each other in vulgar street slang and go on a rape and killing spree. At the story’s end, it’s revealed that they are characters in a video game played by three white suburban boys.

I should probably note here that the rest of the article reveals it’s unclear exactly what caused the school administrators to pull the magazine; another piece were highly critical of Goldman-Sachs, the school’s owner. But in light of other racist college newspaper issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mute/Off was pulled because of Mitchell’s essay. Apparently, the administration has since announced that the magazine will be released (hopefully, with everything intact), so we can look forward to reading exactly what it was that got the Institute’s administration so worked up.

Frankly, I’m appalled that a student essay about white boys role-playing as streetwise black gangstas got Mute/Off pulled off the shelves. It’s as if it was somehow Breaking News that the image of the South Central L.A. brown gangster has been glamorized and repackaged by (mostly white men) to sell to the youth who can afford PS2s and iPods – that is, mostly white boys. They’re playing out the modern-day blackface Godfather fantasies.

Perhaps the part that interests me most about this conversation, however, is the role that the games industry – which is, again, mostly white males – have in creating and recreating images of blackness, not just in fiction (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but also in ‘semi-fiction’ (50 Cent: Bulletproof). Fortunately, others out there have started to unpack these questions a little bit. So!

Recommended reading:

“Guns, Gangs, and Greed” @ Escapist Magazine

“Gamers’ Intersection @ Washington Post